In “The Function of Crictism,” Eliot says, “I thought of literature then, as I think of it now, of the literature of the world of the literature of Europe, of the literature of a single country, not as a collection of the writings of individuals, but as ‘organic wholes’, as systems in relation to which, and only in relation to which, individual works of literary art, and works of individual artist, have their significance” (68). Eliot refutes the idea of the individual and instead places the emphasis on the movement of the time, in his case Modernism. Hulme speaks, though in a different concept, of this same concept of the individual not being able to escape a movement. Hulme says, “ You at any particular moment may think that you can stand outside a movement. You may think that as an individual you observe both the classic and the romantic spirit and decide from a purely detached. Point of view that one is superior to the other. The answer to this is that no one, in a matter of judgment of beauty, can take a detached standpoint in this way. . . Your opinion is almost entirely of the literary history that came just before you” (97). Though Hulme is arguing an entirely different point, he is saying near the same thing that Eliot says. An individual artist is part of the movement that he is born into. There are not many that could escape this. The same literary history stretches before poets of the same era, and the result is the movements of each era. Materer says that Eliot blames Blake’s culture that “failed to provide what a poet of his visionary kind needed” (7). For Eliot, it is not just that which proceeds the poet that affects him but also the poet’s present surroundings, so Eliot is freely admitting that his poetry is great because he comes from a great literary movement. (I do believe that he thinks his poetry great because Materer quotes him as saying to his mother that he believed the English people considered him the best living poet and critic (2).)
In ”The Metaphysical Poets, Eliot questions how much of their conventions were the product of a movement or school. However, it is hard to argue against the idea of modern school poetry because of Ezra Pound’s writings on the subject of what poetry of his time was in “A retrospect.” The poets of the modern period were moving away from tradition in their conventions of writing, Ezra Pound being a very influential voice in this new definition of poetry. Pound says that he, Hilda Doolittle, and Richard Aldington agreed on three principles of poetry, which he lists as
1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to composer in the sequence of the musical phrase not in sequence of a metronome. (58).
He goes on to talk specifically about these three points and to give the reader a list of don’ts in poetry. Another interesting thing that Eliot and Pound both talk about in reference to poetry is that it should express emotion, but not necessary through an outward expression of emotion. The poetry itself through its images should bring the reader to the desired emotion.
I find it interesting that many of Pound’s and the modern movement’s ideas of poetry have stuck around to be thought in poetry writing class today (or at least in my experience). Though I learned all types of poetry, including set forms and meters, the modern poetry that is emphasized seems to go back to Pound’s three principles of poetry.